Monday, March 30, 2009

The crash and reverse migration

Seeing an article in the Houston Chronicle about undocumented Mexican immigrants returning home as US jobs have faded gets me to thinking -- as I have done often recently -- about the implications of the economic crisis for immigration. The NY Times also recently looked at this issue, as part of their excellent series about immigrants in America, focusing on Mexican immigrants struggling to hang on in a small Tennessee town.

It's a tough issue to come to terms with. It's tempting to point to the return of immigrants when the economy goes down as an example of how foreign workers benefit the economy. They come here when their labor is needed, and go home when it's not. This is the model of the "guest worker," better known in some European countries than it is here -- although there are examples of officially regulated US guest worker programs for immigrant farm workers. It would seem that even a vehement anti-immigration advocate could see the benefit of this supply-meets-demand phenomenon.

In the hot days of the immigration debates before the economic meltdown, those of us at Open Border Central were not arguing in favor of immigrants as guest workers. The guest worker concept entered the debate as Congress was seeking compromise legislation -- the temporary worker provision seemed like a callous, gutless political concept. But that was before sub-prime.

In those days before it became so popular to condemn capitalism and trample on the sacred memory of Milton Friedman, we Open Border bloggers would in fact have totally disparaged the guest worker notion. Let these people seeking economic freedom come here and work and join the fabric of our society. The cost of providing public service (education, health care, infrastructure) would be small compared to the increase in economic activity stimulated by hard working, low wage immigrants. And that is still true.

So let's be consistent. Let's not say: "see, they go back when there's a depression" as a new twist on our pro-immigrant position. Let's not be happy that immigrants are going home, saving money for hard pressed state budgets. Let's be consister, and say, it's a shame they're going home. If there were to stay, the recovery will come all the sooner, and will be all the more vigious and long-lived.


Tom said...

Thought you might possibly enjoy this 9 minute YouTube video summarizing 600 years of the Mexican Immigration experience.


Tom Miles
Albuquerque, NM, USA

Horace Jones said...

Even better than guest workers (which is in fact an excellent concept) are holders of the eb5 eb5 investor visa. These immigrants are always needed in the country, as they each create at least 10 jobs for the US economy. Not too shabby if you ask me. And there's nothing the country needs more than jobs at this point.